Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pardon My Contumely

Okay so first of all to get this out of the way: I ran 6.31 miles at a 9 minute pace this morning to bring my monthly total up to 94.42 miles, so I have to run just a little over 5 and a half miles tomorrow to get to 100 for the month. And it's supposed to rain tomorrow.

Fucking weather.
So the other day I finish my last shift of the month on QandA-NJ (state-wide, online chat-type reference service), and I decide to do what I normally do, which is e-mail my stats to the Branch Manager who is in charge of keeping QandA stats; and I'm pretty friendly with this particular Branch Manager — in fact, she's the one whom I trusted enough to bitch to when things weren't going that great at the job and having that outlet probably prevented me from doing anything really stupid ... so far ...

Anyroad, I send her my stats in my usual obnoxious way, by writing, "Hey Derrick1! I had 8 questions this month, which I bet is more than you had or any of the other QandAers here, and if that turns out to be true when they send you their stats, you have to send them all an e-mail saying, 'You're all a bunch of effin' LUUUUZERS because Heisenberg bested you yet again, ya fucking LUUUUUZERS!' And you have to call them 'luuuzers' twice because they should feel the full weight of your contumely!"

And almost immediately she e-mails me back, "'Contumely'? I was gonna point out what a luuuzer you are, but I was too busy looking that one up."

And I was like, "Read your Shxpr, Derrick! It's right there in the 2B ur ~2B soliloquy:
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’ oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of disprized love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin?
So take that quietus and stick it in your bare bodkin!"

And then I didn't hear back from her and now for some reason I'm being forced to go to a "seminar" for "sensitivity training"! Like I'm not already fucking sensitive enough!1!2

But anyroad, I love that word: contumely. I think I may've actually used it once or twice on this very blog. And the "To Be or Not To Be" soliloquy really is where I first saw it and remembered it from. I'm not even sure when. Probably early in my undergraduate3 career, such as it was.

And there are just a ton4 of reasons that I like that word and have actually incorporated it into my own vocabulary. Because there are lots of Shakespearean words - just  in the "To Be or Not To Be" speech alone - that I could have glommed on to, but haven't; because when was the last time you heard me or anyone else going on about "disprized love" or "fardels" or "orisons" or being "sicklied o'er" or our dread "quietus"?

But to me contumely was always different because, though a noun, it sure as shit looks like an adverb, what with that -ly going on there, and but so it's a bit of a shock when you realize that to adverbalize it you hafta go all contumeliously, which just seems seems kinda ridiculous, not to get all contumelious (adjectival form) on you or behave contumeliously. But the thing about contumely is it's useful because it's basically a synonym for rudeness or arrogance, but it's better than those because if you use it you can just kinda stop people in their tracks and make them go Whoa! like Keanu Reeves. Because no matter how inarticulate its verbal surrounding, contumely can save your ass from looking idiotic. E.g., if you react to an insult thus: "Well ...! Pffttt! I'm ... you know, I don't ... if you're gonna ... I mean I'm not gonna, y'know, just fucking sit here and ... you know, uh, put up with, endure your ... your ... your ... contumely" ... nobody keys on how inarticulate that string of caveman grunts5 was; they instead just go, Whoa, better not spar linguistically with this dude because he just said "contumely" and evidently knows what it means!1! and then that person kinda backs away from you slowly lest you break out the fardels and go all quietus on their ass, would'st thou givest me a high-five, pray?

And so where are you going with this? the three of you who've stayed with me thus far might well ask. A fair question. But I'm not there yet.

When I was a kid of like 25, I asked for a copy of the newly-updated Jerusalem Bible for my birthday, which made Teh 'Dad really happy because this was a Catholic translation and therefore by definition better than ANY OTHER IN TEH WORLD; and Teh 'Dad was even happier when I spent that whole summer reading it cover-to-cover6, which was the second most unrewarding reading experience I ever endured7 or, I should say, inflicted on myself. Because I just read it straight through and never stopped to like write down my thoughts about any of the individual Books or even chapters or passages. I just bulled my way through.

And if you don't think about what you read - which for me basically means writing about it, because that's the only way I can imposed some minimal organization on my inchoate thoughts - then pert near any benefit derived from the experience of reading something is almost immediately lost. This may not be everyone's experience with reading, but it sure is mine. And yeah I'm aware that with some of the Books of the Bible there really isn't a whole lot to say. Some of it is just out-and-out boring and a total slog to get through and no amount of thinking or writing about it is gonna change that. I mean, Deuteronomy? Proof postive that even God occasionally uploads a boring post. 'Nuff said.

But there's just tons of stuff I wish I had given more thought to while I was reading the Big B.; I should have kept a journal or something, but I didn't, and it is extremely unlikely that I will live long enough8 to want to read the whole of the Bible again. So that's a nonstarter, right there.

But my e-mail to Derrick the other day and the whole contumely thing reminded me that I have for some time now been kicking around this idea of spending a season (or however long it takes - a full year?) reading all of Shakespeare's plays9. Because I've read fewer than half of them and I've always felt that it would be an enriching experience to read them all.

But what would be the point of reading them if I didn't retain anything meaningful about them?

And the only way to do that, as I said, would be to write about them.

Now do you see where I'm going?

Because as you, my faithful readers, well know, I am constantly looking for new and better ways to alienate you all and - hell, why be coy? - just generally irritate you and piss you off. And it seems to me that there can be no better way to do that than use this very blog to inflict upon y'all my thoughts re: Shaxberd's plays. And so it is my intent, starting, roughly, in January 2011, to begin reading all of Shxpr's plays and then write something or other about each in a post in this here already extremely off-putting blog.

That is my intent. It may never happen because who knows if I'll find the time or have the patience and endurance to do it? But you've been given over three months' warning, and that is plenty of time to run screaming from this evil place and find shelter10.

Because I think even the relatively "minor" Shakespeare plays will have a lot to teach me. One thing I'll definitely learn is whether writing about them will scare off the seven ... six ...five? of you all.

Now here is The Beatles' "I Am the Walrus"11:

1 Her pseudonymous last name, not to be confused with her true last name which I'll never tell. But it rhymes with "Derrick".

2 Hahahahahaha! Just kidding. I'm pretty sure Derrick is still talking to me. God knows why.

3 I originally misspelled "undergraduate" here as "undergarent" and spellcheck wanted me to change it to "undergarment career". Pffftt! Shows you what spellcheck knows because I'm sitting here post-run, all sweaty, and (TMI ALERT!) I run commando, so WHAT undergarment career would spellcheck be referring to? Also, I have, as any regular reader of this blog knows, a Famously Flat Irish @$$, so who'd hire me as an undergarment model? I mean, unless Hanes comes out with a style of underwear for the ahem ... full-frontloaded male — like an all-codpiece, no-@$$cheek brand. Then I'm your man.

4 = four because in my world each reason weighs roughly 500 lbs.

5 Hey there, caveman j'og and cavewoman B'Ogg!

 6 SPOILER ALERT!1! for those of you who haven't read it: Turns out, God did it. But he had an accomplice - His own Son!1! Dunt-dunt-duuuuuuuuh!1!

7 The most unrewarding experience having occurred roughly two summer previously, when I "read" Finnegans Wake from cover to cover. "Read" in quotation marks because whether or not I read it depends on how you define "read": If you have a lax definition - i.e., "looking at each black mark on each of the 600+ white pages" qualifies as "reading" - then I read it; but if your definition entails there be some level of understanding of the text perused, then I definitely didn't read FW. And I "read" it only because I love James Joyce and wanted to be a completist and, with Joyce, that means tackling Finnegans Wake. Which of course means a few weeks of low-level insanity.

8 I'd definitely have to beat Methuselah's record of 969 years, which is awesome and not just because it includes a 69, but that's a big part of it (She Spake Thusly!). 

9 Of which there are now 38, since Two Noble Kinsmen has been considered canonical for a few decades now, at least. 

10 Pffftt! Typical.


11 And here's why it is marginally relevant to this topic:

John wrote "I Am the Walrus" as a reaction to learning that some academics were studying and teaching Beatles' lyrics as poetry. "Let 'em try to make sense of this," John sneered.

One of the things he did during the recording of this song was leave a radio on so that the feedback and static would be added to the mix. Turns out the radio was tuned to a BBC production of King Lear, and at the end of "IAtW" (beginning at roughly the 3:50 mark) you can clearly hear these lines from Lear Act IV, Scene V in the background:
Slave, thou hast slain me: villain, take my purse:
If ever thou wilt thrive, bury my body;
And give the letters thou find'st about me
To Edmund Earl of Gloucester, seek him out
Among the British party: O, untimely death.
(Oswald dies)

I know thee well: a serviceable villain;
As duteous to the vices of thy mistress
As badness would desire.

What, is he dead?

Sit you down father, rest you.

This is the scene in Lear in which Edgar (disguised because he's been wrongly banished by his father, Gloucester, and is here helping Gloucester despite the mistreatment he has received at his father's hand) kills the servant Oswald and notes that Oswald was a "good" servant in that he did whatever his mistress (the "bad" daughter Goneril) asked of him, even when what she asked was evil. But of course, one of the major questions in Lear is ... what makes a for good servant? (Which is part of the larger theme about the nature of the bond between people: parent-child; husband-wide; servant-master.) At the beginning of the play, servant Kent is banished by Lear for daring to tell Lear that he is being foolish by dividing up his kingdom (which Lear is) but, as a truly good servant, Kent returns, disguised, to keep serving his master even in the latter's folly. Sometimes, a good son/daughter/spouse/servant should be defiant - this is a major theme in Lear; it's just all over the place.

But then that theme turns almost tragicomical at the end when Kent evidently believes that the time has come for his Big Reveal and is trying to tell Lear "Hey, Lear! It's me! Kent! Remember that dude Caius, your servant? Came on board right about the time I 'left'? Him? That was me! Dude, that was totally me in disguise!" Meanwhile, there's Cordelia lying there dead, and Lear's all, "Got a dead kid here, Kent, this isn't exactly about you!" and Kent's all, "Ooooo, yeah, right. Sorry! We'll talk later."

But the point is there's just a whole lot going on in this play (and in "I Am the Walrus", for that matter) and I am kinda dimly aware of this fact because I have not only read Lear a few times, but written about it. And that kinda clarifies some things ... while clouding others. But I think there's a whole lot more out there to be learned and so why not start at the top, with Shakespeare?

And if doing that comes across as contumely, So Be It.


  1. I'm only a few paragraphs into this... but "pangs of disprized love?" I thought it was "prongs of this prize'd love." Damned audio tapes from Kyrghyzstan!

  2. Okay, a few more paragraphs... and you remind me of the Simpsons: "Embiggens?" "Embiggens is a perfectly cromulent word." Just because you say things people don't understand doesn't mean that the listener is at fault.

  3. "Two Noble Kinsmen" is okay - co-written by Fletcher, I believe. "Cardenio," the lost play, is now considered to be found in a similarly titled play and is easily available. Meh.

  4. Okay. If you reread the Bible some day, I'd recommend the NRSV for word-to-word accuracy, price and skipping all the Catholic crap .(Maccabees? Tobit? Why not include the gay lovefest Gospel of Thomas?). King James Version still has the best literary value.

    Among Shakespeare's plays (all read in my 30's), I discovered that I loved the historical plays, much to my surprise. Henry IV, Part 2 is best, followed by Part 3. I think they're never performed because the populist dullards say "Sequel? I Never saw Part 1!" Part 1, a later, tacked-on prequel, is not good.

  5. Oh, and First! (and 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th)

  6. A SteveQ - Just because you say things people don't understand doesn't mean that the listener is at fault.

    Don't recall saying (or even implying) it was the listener's fault.

    Relevant Simpsons (Homer) quote: "Marge, it takes two to lie - one to lie, and one to listen."

  7. "Hanes comes out with a style of underwear for the ahem ... full-frontloaded male — like an all-codpiece, no-@$$cheek brand."

    Sigh. Dude, it's called a jockstrap.

    And, hark ye: "Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit..."

    Methinks you need to take a lesson from old Polonius.

    Sarah (D-MI)

  8. @Sarah (D-MI) - Yeah, um, there's always a kinda double-edged sword quality to quoting a Shakespeare character's lines approvingly, and nowhere more so than in the case of Polonius; because even in that speech where he extols "brevity"? He's being incredibly long-winded and dense. He pretty much always is. At one point in the play, the Queen attempts to goose him along by saying "More matter, with less art" - i.e., get to the fucking point already, P-Dogg. Which Polonius rarely does very quickly.

    And so it's weird because people tend to cherrypick and cite approvingly the "Shakespeare" quotes that they already agree with and they kinda convince themselves that the sentiments contained therein are Shakespeare's own; forgetting entirely that, in his plays, Shakespeare tailored these remarks to the characters and, while the characters might believe what they're saying, we really have no way of knowing what Shakespeare's attitude toward those sentiments was.

    The upshot being, when, e.g., you advise me to seek out that hallowed "brevity", the "authority" you cite to bolster your case is a character who is a long-winded and pompous ass, incapable of following his own advice. That is the character into whose mouth Shakespeare put the bromide, "Brevity is the soul of wit." Not Hamlet's. Not Horatio's. But Polonius'.

    We really have no idea what Shakespeare's attitude vis-à-vis the relationship between brevity and wit was ("wit", in Shakespeare's time, meaning more "keen intelligence" than our current definition of that word as, essentially, a synonym for "funny"); we do know, however, that Shakespeare wrote some really, really, REALLY long plays.

    Which I guess makes him an idiot?

  9. Your post is as long as some of Bill's plays.

    But surprisingly interesting. Now, I'm looking forward to some of that commentary on Othello.

  10. You want a high five? Fine, I'll five you but for God's sake put on some #$%^ underbritches. Geez, I was eating lunch when I read this post.

    And for the record, I'm pretty sure some "fardels" came out of one of my "orisons" last night after eating too much cauliflower.

    See? Two can play the TMI game.
    Your serve.

  11. BTW, I have a visit to the great state of NJ coming up. Anything I need to know or should I just post on QandANJ and send it your attention????

  12. RED ALERT!1! Kanada Keef stole my 2B or Not 2B idea in his post! Anybody in the vicinity of Kanadia should do me the Great Good Favor of Kicking His @$$!1! If that causes an international incident, SO BE IT!1! (Or, alternatively, Not To Be It.) Because when we invaded Iraq? We had waaaay less cause than this.

    And to those of you who point out that his post has a timestamp of like 12 hours before mine? I guess you just want the Kanadian Terrorists to win, huh?

  13. hahahaha. Love it. I've been in a Shakespeare mood for movies lately, and dithering about facebook. I'm on, by the way. Glad I did it when I did, because who knows what contumely would be heaped on my head if I'd merely followed suit.

    I was going to try to one up GQH AGAIN by posting a link to a comparison I did between The Illiad (the book) and Troy, the movie. Although it's in my computer and once was on my other website, I can't provide a link that works. Maybe I'll put it on a second blog page, if there's a demand for it.

  14. I'm so good to you guys.

  15. Good luck getting the hundred tomorrow! and the phillies did it again. geez.

  16. I'd kick his @$$ Glaven, Keef just lives down the block from me AND he is trying to copy my photographic genious ability and take pictures of my Kanadiun Autumn, but he'll probably just ride estella hard and because I don't have a 2 wheeler, he'd just get away, so Eff it.

  17. What the eff, Beth? You were planning a trip to my lovely state w/o telling me?

    GP - once when I was childless & single & looking for ways to occupy all the time that I had, I bought one of those huge books of Bill's plays to read through, thinking it would be a great idea. I was even poorer then when I was childless & single (eh?), so the 4-in-1 volume appealed to me also in a "what a good deal" kind of way.

    Anyhoo, I never read the thing, but I'm sure I've kept it around here somewhere, thinking that one day, I'll be able to read it (perhaps when there's a Bill-focused book club around here).

  18. The upshot being, when, e.g., you advise me to seek out that hallowed "brevity", the "authority" you cite to bolster your case is a character who is a long-winded and pompous ass, incapable of following his own advice.

    I did it on purpose. I knew exactly who I was quoting. I did my fair share of the studying of Old Willy, too. ;)

    Don't get me started on those Kanadians...I live a mere 60 miles away from Kanadia, you know.

  19. Well, shit I am a day late and a dollar short.


    Story of my life.

    1. I have lost the ability to write cohesive comments so I always resort to numbered lists.

    2. I have now introduced my students to the word 'contumely' and it mysterious adverby spelling, but nouny definition, because, despite your inability to distinguish females from males, you do have a kick ass vocabulary (unlike your favorite tranny, he says "hi" by the way, and that you should call him. He needs to "Tell you something")

    3. I am almost ashamed to admit how excited I am about the Shakespeare series. I can not get past the language in trying to read it and I never know what is going on unless I see it performed and even in that I am certain miss a great deal. A good friend of mine is in LOVE with the Bard (despite his carbon being recycled four times over). She will be THRILLED if I actually know what the fuck she is talking about once in a while.

    4. I graduated from a Jesuit university even though I am not, nor have I ever been Catholic or any religion for that matter. For my one mandatory, all heathen transfers must take this religion class I was made to purchase the King James version of the Bible versus Bible Stories for Dummies, which MAYBE I could have handled.

    Uh. Yeah. I took my C in that class and looked at it as a gift.